Washington and Pandora's Box

Thursday, 27 March 2003 19:54 by: Anonymous

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By Gilles Kepel
Le 0aMonde

Beyond the disarmament and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the first objective 0aof the military intervention in Iraq is to close the Pandora's Box the United 0aStates opened when it chose to encourage, arm, and finance objectionabl e local 0aallies who ultimately turned on them.

Saddam-but also the jihadists and the Taliban of Afghanistan all fit into the 0aself-same logic Washington wants to break away from now.

To understand the stakes in these high risk bets, one must return to 0a1979.

February of 1979 saw the collapse of the regime of the Shah, "policeman of 0athe Gulf'' and essential pillar of security in this petrol-rich zone, while the 0aIslamic revolution triumphed to the cries of "Death to the Great Satan!''

In November, an attack by radicals on the Great Mosque of Mecca underscored 0athe fragility of the Saudi ally and the limits of the conservative and 0apro-American practice of Wahabi Islam.

Finally, in December, the Red Army entered Afghanistan.

Traumatized by the Vietnam War, over just four years before, America did not 0asend its own soldiers to contain the Iranian expansion or repel the Soviet 0ainvasion: it farmed the operation out to two circumstanti al allies, duly armed 0aand financed by the USA and the petro-monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq attacked the Islamic Republic in September 1980 and 0acontained the Iranian push to the west, protecting the oil of the peninsula.

The Afghan Mujahadijn and other Arab or Pakistani jihadists took arms against 0athe Red Army, turning the anti-Americanism of radical Khomeini Islam along the 0away into Anti-Sovietism of good Wahabi construction .

At the end of the decade, Washington could congratulate itself on the work of 0aits subcontracto rs: Teheran's Ayatollah signed an armistice with Saddam in the 0asummer of 1988 that blocked the expansion of the Iranian revolution for good; 0athe bearded "freedom fighters'' compelled Moscow to retire its troops in 0aFebruary 1989, a prelude to the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the Soviet 0aEmpire.

Iran and Iraq drained, Afghanistan in ruins; this double political victory 0acost the United States' budget virtually nothing and American troops had not 0arisked their lives in uncertain battles.

The White House proceeded to wash its hands of the fate of these two 0adisreputable allies: it stopped subsidizing the jihadists, suddenly downgraded 0afrom "freedom fighters'' to drug traffickers and potential terrorists, in the 0ahope that they would disappear from lack of funds.

And no aid was accorded to Saddam Hussein, ruined by the war, harassed by 0ademands for reimbursemen t by the petro-monarchies, who were inundating the oil 0amarket, to the detriment of an Iraq handicapped by its bombed out plant and 0aincapable of producing more: the collapse of prices precipitated its 0adepression.

The effects of this Pontius Pilate policy are known: Saddam annexed Kuwait on 0aAugust 2, 1990, grabbing the treasure chest, and August 7, King Fahd called 0aAmerican troops to the rescue.

Washington was then constrained to temporarily use its own soldiers, 0asupported at the time by an internationa l coalition: "Operation Desert 0aStorm's'' military victory without a call-up and practically without American 0adeaths seemed a complete political triumph for the United States.

However, the United States were to choose to allow the two open wounds of the 0aeastern Middle East get infected: the Iraqi question was covered up with the 0aband aid of the embargo- Saddam meanwhile prospering in power; and no one 0apreoccupied themselves with the surge in the power of the jihadists around a 0acertain Bin Laden, who did not pardon the Saudi Kingdom for having called "infidel'' armies to the rescue on the sacred soil of the Arabian Peninsula and 0awho would launch violent guerilla actions and then terrorism, organizing the 0aproliferatio n of the Afghan jihad.

If the United States allowed the Iraqi situation to deteriorate without 0ataking the risk of eliminating Saddam, it was so they could use the political 0aleverage conferred by the victory and unanimity of the coalition they had 0adirected to exert major pressure to constrain Israel and the Palestinians to 0amake peace.

Their policy in the region, once the Soviet danger had dissipated, was 0aencumbered by the persisting contradictio ns between two imperatives that were 0aequally valuable to the U.S.: guaranteeing the security of oil supplies and of 0aIsrael.

Victory in Kuwait allowed George Bush, the father, to compel Arafat and 0aShamir to negotiate while they were both exhausted by the first Intifada and 0aweakened by the consequences of the war-the one for having supported Saddam and 0alost his own support in the Gulf, the other for not having authorized a response 0ato the Iraqi scud attacks on Tel Aviv.

The peace process of the nineties allowed one to think that there again 0aWashington had achieved its objectives: to reconcile the oil and the Israeli 0astakes in the Middle East. But the expected dynamic of the peace, which was 0asupposed to bring prosperity to the whole region, did not develop: for want of 0atrust between the two partners, Israeli and Palestinian, the second Intifada, 0awhich started September 2000, sounded its knell.

During this time, the untreated infection of the jihad became gangrenous on 0athe Arabian peninsula. There Bin Laden demanded the "expulsion of Jews and 0aChristians'' while he produced the first spectacular attacks, in Nairobi August 0a7, 1998 ( commemoratin g King Fahd's call for American troops eight years 0abefore) and in Aden October 2000, shortly after the resumption of violence in 0aIsrael and Palestine.

It wasn't until the day after September 11, 2001, when the jihad was brought 0ainto the heart of the United States, that George W. Bush's administrati on 0aquestioned the policy followed since 1979. The two regimes founded by the former 0aallies of the eighties- the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq- were 0acondemned to surgical removal, while up until then, in the context of the 0aillusory Israeli- Palestinian peace, they had been allowed to slowly putrefy, 0athe one in the grip of Sharia, the other of the embargo.

If, in 1991, Washington had chosen to neutralize Iraq by embargo in order to 0areorganize the Middle-East from its western fa ade, starting from the Israeli- 0aPalestinian peace process and then Israeli-Arab , the present offensive reverses 0athe geographic order of priorities: by eliminating Saddam, the Iraqi actor is 0areintroduced into the heart of the Middle-East, with its considerable economic 0apotential, but dilapidated by the Baathist- military dictatorship and frozen by 0athe embargo.

This dynamic that aims to transform the Middle-East by an impulse from the 0aeast, to make a zone of peace and prosperity there, into which Israel would be 0aintegrated eventually, pushes the break with the strategy followed by the White 0aHouse since 1979 to the limit.

After having eliminated the former Afghan jihadist allies by suppressing the 0aTaliban regime in the fall of 2001, it's the former Iraqi partner, subsequently 0aneutralized, who is finally the object of a direct take-over through the 0aengagement of American troops on the ground.

The policy of recourse to local sub- contractors had appeared less costly in 0athe short term and even sometimes profitable. But the true invoice was presented 0ain the terrorism of the 1990s, the failure of the peace process in 2000, the 0athreat to the security of oil supplies, and the attacks of September 11.

For Washington, the cost revealed itself to be far higher than any economies 0ain men or dollars one had thought to have made, and the danger far greater than 0aanyone had imagined: the Pandora's Box opened in 1979 must be closed for 0agood.

George W. Bush is a prisoner of the calendar, which imposes a rapid and 0acomplete victory on him. Without it, he risks opening Pandora's Box a bit more, 0areleasing hostile forces which risk destabilizin g the region over the entire 0aMiddle East and making it still more difficult to establish the Pax Americana 0athere.

Gilles Kepel is a professor at the Institute of Political Studies in 0aParis.

Translation: TruthOut French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher

Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 13:37